Richard Branson Explains Why He's Founding a New Festival and What It Will Do for the Virgin Brand

Earlier this week, Virgin founder Richard Branson announced a new festival to debut in 2019. Pitched as a “multi-experiential music festival series,” Virgin Fest will feature a “mixture of diverse music acts, cutting edge technological experiences, exclusive content and a commitment to sustainability,” according to a statement. Adweek caught up with Branson and his Virgin Fest co-founder and managing director Jason Felts to find out why they wanted to get into the crowed music festival space.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: What does this do for the Virgin brand?
Branson: It will be another wonderful way to experience the Virgin brand. Our companies have always put customer service at the center of their businesses, and Virgin Fest will do the same with their festival. Music has been in Virgin’s heritage from the very beginning when I started the first mail-order record business in 1970, so getting into festivals has always been a natural step for us.  

Felts: At Virgin Fest, we are looking to set the bar just a little bit higher for the festival industry with a more personalized customer service approach.

Is this an attempt to keep the Virgin brand alive in the U.S. given the Alaska Airlines merger and plans to drop the name in 2019?
Branson: Virgin Fest will definitely give us a stronger presence in the U.S. and give our customers and fans of the brand a new way to experience it, but the Virgin brand is still very much alive with our other Virgin companies. I’m very proud of how we’ve been able to go into so many industries, from airlines to hotels, financial services and even space!

Why create a music festival when the space is already crowded? How will this be different?
Felts: We believe the space is not necessarily “crowded,” but rather that there is a white space that Virgin Fest will look to fill with regard to the customer experience and giving guests a level of service that may not be offered at other festivals. Virgin Fest is not just a music festival. It is multiexperiential, and it is a convergence of music and technology and generosity. We are taking the experience beyond the weekend of the festival with a more interactive app that will give guests the Virgin Fest experience year-round. We will have a major focus on sustainability, which has always been important to the Virgin brands, and will be implementing best practices around controlling and reducing waste as well as powering the festival in unique and sustainable ways. For example, we plan to be the first music festival with a solar-powered stage.

Will you use the same logo, etc. for the Virgin brand festival as you previously used?
Felts: Virgin Fest will have its own unique logo and branding separate from its predecessor, V Fest, which took place in the U.K. and is no longer moving forward. Virgin Fest is, in a sense, a rebirth of the Virgin festival experience, but it will have its own brand identity.  

Will Alaska Airlines be involved?
Felts: There is no formal alignment with Alaska Airlines planned, but we will be looking at all opportunities to create corporate partnerships with brands that share a likeminded sensibility with the Virgin Fest brand. 

Why do this now? Why a music festival?
Branson: Why not? Virgin’s DNA is in music, and the consumer is looking for the next generation of live entertainment experiences.

What about the music festival space is exciting right now and what needs fixing?
Felts: Lineups are becoming derivative, carbon copies of themselves and are becoming more like tours for artists. We’re looking to program our lineup uniquely with a combination of big household names and discoverable acts while organically infusing some of our favorite artists from across the pond. So, first and foremost, we will be differentiated by our programing, but secondly, we will be unlike any other festival in the world with regard to our level of customer service and the experience we will create for each guest.

What does this do for the Richard Branson brand?
Felts: The DNA of Richard and the brand is music and this is bringing the brand back full circle to its roots in a way that capitalizes on our experience in the space, both in looking after music artists on the b-to-b side and creating world class events for customers on the b-to-c side.

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